Week 8:
Write-Up Coming Right Up!

Cornell Fellow in Botanical Conservation

Gullele Botanic Garden | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

April 6, 2019

Last week, I said that my data sheets would become my life. It appears that I am a fortune teller because I’ve been staring at these things all week and my fingers are shaking from typing ‘Juniperus procera‘ (the dominant tree species here) so many times.

Desk space views; a camera trap, field guide, and plants to identify.

Let’s back up for a second though. What is a write-up? I guess it can be lots of things, but for me it’s taking everything we’ve done here at Gullele in the past two months and condensing it into a research paper. That means an abstract, a background, methods, results, discussion… the whole 9 yards (or meters here since we’re using the metric system). Most of my week was spent typing up the data sheets from the Intensive Modified Whittaker Plots, which was an intense experience as it involved a lexicon of scientific names and a whole lot of table-making in Excel. In addition, I’m also still in the process of synthesizing all the camera trap data, and leaving space for germination test results (a part of our study which is still ongoing; plants take time and patience, folks). With all these moving parts, I’m learning a lot about study design. That might sound weird–study design is something that happens at the beginning of a project, not the end. But, as I start crunching numbers, I’m thinking about how I could have made my life a whole lot easier if I had collected or recorded data in different way. As I write, questions keep popping up for me: what if I had recorded slope at my subplots and not just my main plot? Would my results be different if I had changed the settings on my camera traps? What would have happened if I walked transects to check out canopy cover?

Write-up time is not the time to do more extensive data collection, but I am finding that it is a period of reflection. Thinking through the data we’ve collected is making me think critically about how I want to go about designing studies in the future and how I can adjust my approaches to data collection and analysis. There’s nothing like doing to make you learn!

Reflecting about data also has me reflecting on my time in Ethiopia as a whole. While time at work is spent at my desk tip-tappity-typing away, outside of work I’ve been keeping up with a central part of my experience here, which has been the coffee. The coffee here is delicious, but even more enchanting is the experience coffee here gives you. I’ve come to realize that coffee-drinking is almost kind of an active hobby here—everywhere you go, there’s people in cafes or at little bunabeats (coffee houses) chilling with their cup of ‘jo and just observing what’s going on around them. It’s part of the culture here to just sit back, and be, something that I personally don’t see much of in America. I’m so struck by how many people are content to calmly sit and watch the roads. There’s no phone-fiddling, no impatience, just an air of peace that you wouldn’t expect to find in one of the busiest cities in Africa, and shockingly enough, it’s the coffee culture that makes that peace happen. During my time here, sitting in peace with a cup of coffee has become a major highlight for me, and I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to take that calmness with me back to the U.S., where we are always so focused on staying busy instead of just living in the moment. Two people who have really taught me the importance of staying in the moment are my lovely neighbors, Kabe and Belina, who never hesitate to invite me for coffee after work. Their generosity and kindness is something I’m incredibly grateful for.

Belina, myself, Kabe, and Sisaye.

Talitha McGuire '19

Talitha is a religion and biology major from Flagstaff, Arizona.